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Posts Tagged Joel Sass

Neighbors

“Meet Bob and Jennifer and their new neighbors, John and Pony, two suburban couples who have even more in common than their identical homes and their shared last names. As their relationships begin to irrevocably intertwine, the Joneses must decide between their idyllic fantasies and their imperfect realities.”

 — Park Square Theatre’s description of The Realistic Joneses

 

The cast of "The Realistic Joneses" with Director Joel Sass Photograph by Connie Shaver

The cast of “The Realistic Joneses” with Director Joel Sass
Photograph by Connie Shaver

 

You don’t get to choose your neighbors.  They just arrive.

Neighbors can be challenging. There were the ones who cut us no slack during our first sleep-deprived year of parenthood, calling the inspector whenever our lawn grew even a millimeter beyond city code. And the ones who were suspected of prostitution, though finally evicted for something else. As a child, I was afraid of the ghost, dubbed The White Lady, who supposedly haunted the building under construction next door.

Neighbors can hate you, like the ones in a suburb of Los Angeles who wanted my parents, siblings and I to “go back home,” meaning not in America and certainly not next door to them.

Neighbors can be kind. They took in the apartment caretaker’s cats when she died. They came with their snow blowers to help people trying to shovel out after big storms. One saved my sisters and I when we were youngsters being chased home by two men; that neighbor was a big dog named Fido.

Neighbors can be for keeps. Our current neighbors to our right have become honorary grandparents to our child, delighting in her friends who play on their lawn and kidnap their garden gnomes and providing a safe haven of unconditional love and acceptance. These are the neighbors who took the late night call for help to rush our dying greyhound to emergency care so that one parent could stay home with our then toddler.  They are the ones who good-humoredly let us light 80 candles on the cake–which almost melted before the song finished–when we celebrated “grandpa’s” birthday on their deck. These are the neighbors with whom we have a pact: We shall never move unless you do.

In The Realistic Joneses, playing on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Stage through this Sunday, Oct 16, Bob and Jennifer Jones don’t get to choose their new neighbors. John and Pony just arrive.  And as neighbors do, they touch each others’ lives in the most unexpected ways.  Find out how in this honest, touching and very funny area premiere of Will Enos’ comedy-drama.

Don’t miss it and be sure to bring your neighbors along.

Is Your Theater’s Commitment to Diversity Real, or Realistic? (Written by Eric “Pogi” Sumangil)

This post originally appeared on Eric “Pogi” Sumangil’s personal blog, wilyfilipino.wordpress.com. Sumangil plays John Jones in The Realistic Joneses, on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage until October 16.

Tuyo is a fish dish in the Philippines. Also, Filipinos really like puns.

Tuyo is a fish dish in the Philippines. Also, Filipinos really like puns.

This may not look like much, but it actually means a lot to me. This is one of my costumes for The Realistic Joneses at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota.

It started with a graphic t-shirt that the costume designer picked up at a thrift store. It was army green with a picture of a bicycle and some katakana writing underneath. But most of our set is also green, so the costume designer and director decided to look for a shirt in a different color. Something in a red or maroon. And, since they were already going to make a change, according to the costume designer, the director asked, “Can we make it a Filipino shirt?” The next day, the costume designer came into our dressing room with a few designs on a website pulled up on his laptop. They could have, just as easily, gone back to the thrift store and found the right color and size. They could have saved money instead of ordering a newly printed shirt online. But they made a choice, albeit a simple one, but a choice that acknowledges and honors my culture, and I’m grateful for that.

In my career I’ve played my fair share of Asian characters. And while I continue to believe in the importance of roles that are written by and for artists of Asian descent, I especially appreciate the rare opportunities when I get to play roles that make no mention of my race; roles that reinforce the notion that my face is an American face, that my experience is an American experience. As Asian American representation on stage and screen has been a topic of much discussion over the last few years, I feel strongly that it’s important to challenge audiences to see us in a strictly American context. Not foreign, or even foreign-born immigrants, but as Americans whose ethnicity has been on North American soil since 1587.

Good plays that have specific roles for Asian Americans, or Filipino Americans, are already pretty rare in the grand scheme of things. But here’s something even more rare: To have a director and costume designer make a choice to acknowledge your heritage even when it’s not called for in the script. There are plenty of plays out there that make no mention of race or ethnicity, but more often than not, people casting those shows make the easier (perhaps lazier) choice to cast white actors, furthering this notion that whiteness is “normal” and other ethnicities are varying deviations from the norm. When I’m onstage, my culture usually exists in a binary; it’s either essential to the story or completely nonexistent. So to know that my culture is not ignored in the world of this play is an example of a true commitment to diversity. Not only am I the first person of color to play John Jones in The Realistic Joneses (fact checkers, please advise!), but in our production the character is Filipino American, too.

Too often, well meaning people say things like, “I don’t see color,” or “I don’t see your race,” or “We’re all just humans…” and the only thing I can think is that if you’re not seeing my culture, you’re not seeing some essential things about my life and my experience. Also, I’d be less inclined to cook for you, so it’s you who’ll be missing out, not me.

Thank you to Director Joel Sass and Costume Designer Cole Bylander for their thoughtfulness, and to everyone at Park Square Theatre for their commitment to diversity onstage and backstage.

Dressing Up the Joneses

Photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma

Photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma

What is it like to go on a shopping spree with someone else’s money? Cole Bylander knows. Asked by Director Joel Sass to be the costume designer for The Realistic Joneses, currently on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage until October 16, Bylander did just that.

Typically, a costume designer does much research, makes sketches, then creates the garments for a production’s cast. But because The Realistic Joneses is set in modern times, Bylander was able to simply acquire ready-made clothing and accessories. He estimates shopping for three to five hours per character, imagining what would naturally be in the personal closets of Bob, Jennifer, John and Pony Jones.

During their fittings, the actors explored their characters through Bylander’s choices, free to accept or reject his picks depending on their own interpretations. The performers also helped to choose what they would wear for each scene. This costuming process allowed ideas to flow in an organic, collaborative way.

Why didn’t Bylander simply raid each actor’s home closets to build appropriate contemporary wardrobes? Not only would that be too much to ask of an actor, but you’d also run the risk of the actors looking too similar to themselves as opposed to the characters that they are creating.  An actor’s personal taste may also not match the character’s esthetics. For instance, Jane Froiland dresses in a less bohemian style than her character Pony Jones. However, a few of the actors’ own items are indeed worn on stage, such as Angela Timberman’s shoes and purse and Eric “Pogi” Sumangli’s pants. Actors are be paid a minimal rental fee for use of their personal possessions.

Any final costuming adjustments were made during the technical rehearsals, which was the first time when Bylander got to see all the play’s elements working together. Is that dress too short? Is that shirt’s color too much like that of the blanket? No major changes were needed for this play.

What happens to the Joneses’ wardrobe after the show? Unworn garments with tags still attached are returned to the stores for refunds, actors purchase some pieces and an assessment is made of what is stored away or donated to charities.

“I take it as a great compliment when an actor wants to keep what I’ve chosen,” said Bylander.

Bylander has shopped before for actors in film, but this was his first time to do such extensive shopping for a theatre production.

“It was a really successful approach for The Realistic Joneses because there are only four characters,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing it with a cast of 20.”

Shop till you drop? No, more like intensely mindful shopping, followed by intensely mindful fittings, all for a rich payoff for an intensely characters-driven show. After all the hard work on The Realistic Joneses, what’s next on Bylander’s To Do List? A much-needed vacation.

Costume Designer Cole Bylander

Costume Designer Cole Bylander

To learn more about the many talents of Cole Bylander, visit his website: www.colebylander.com

The Realistic Joneses: Featuring Eric “Pogi” Sumangil

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of The Realistic Joneses Blog Series, let us introduce you to Eric “Pogi” Sumangil:

sumangil-eric-pogi-color

ROLE: John Jones, husband of Pony Jones, late 30s-40s

DIRECTOR JOEL SASS’ COMMENT:

When Eric accepted the role of John Jones, I joked that it only took 15 years for us to get a chance to do a show together. I’m so glad it’s finally happening! I first met Eric at an audition when we were both quite new to town and have always enjoyed his auditions and seeing him onstage in other productions. The character of John Jones is a great one: he’s rather zany, a bit of a trickster and the most peculiar, yet charming, guy in the neighborhood. But he’s in the grip of an incredible crisis, a curve-ball life has thrown at him, and discovering what that is all about is one of the great discoveries for the audience.

QUESTION FOR POGI:

In the play, John is very deadpan funny but actually quite often serious about what he’s saying.  What challenges you in playing him?

One of the things I’m bringing to the role of John is that I think I’m the first person of color to play the role. That doesn’t necessarily make it more challenging by any means, but it’s something I’m aware of as an actor. John and Pony in our production are an interracial couple, so I’m curious to see if or how that might affect things as the story unfolds.

Truth be told, I actually have a pretty dry sense of humor like John–people sometimes don’t know if/when I’m joking. I’m a fan of comedy, and there are some great dry/deadpan comedians out there, from the classic deadpan of Buster Keaton to Bill Murray and Stephen Wright in the 80s on down.

There’s a great standup comic named Tig Notaro who had a famous set that was recorded just a few days after she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Around that time, her mother suddenly passed away. Tig had also gone through a bad breakup and almost died herself from C.diff, an intestinal infection, all in a matter of a couple months. So she gets up on stage days after being told she has cancer and just starts talking about it. Talking about her pain through comedy. And it’s amazing and honest and vulnerable and smart and dry and cathartic. And that’s what I think is the challenge of playing John; I think there are moments where his sense of humor might be hiding something; but more importantly, I think comedy is his way of trying to connect and be understood and find some catharsis.

Comedy is a powerful thing. The court jester was the only person who could openly criticize the monarchy without losing his head (if he was funny enough). You can speak great truths through comedy, and that’s what’s interesting and tricky about John. He often plays with the idea of what you’re supposed to say in particular situations, so it’s almost like he’s satirizing on his feet. I know people who are great improv and sketch comedians, but I’ve never considered myself quick-witted enough to be that kind of funny.

I worked for years doing sexual assault prevention, and our presentation was created in part by a former standup comic who actually got her doctorate studying how humor affects one’s willingness to talk about taboo topics. So we learned to use humor strategically while talking about something that was really serious.

There’s a comedy term called the way homer; it’s a joke that you don’t laugh at until you’re thinking about it on the way home. Using comedy to talk about really serious topics is sometimes like that; you get the audience to laugh initially, but you’re really planting the seed of something they’ll think about later. It’s a tightrope to be sure, but I’m definitely up for the challenge.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Debut Representative Theatre Mu Performing Arts: tot: The Untold Yet Spectacular Story of (a Filipino) Hulk Hogan; La Jolla Playhouse: The Seven; Children’s Theatre Company: The Monkey King; Chanhassen Dinner Theatres: Altar Boyz; Mixed Blood Theatre: Bill of (W)rights; Frank Theatre: The Cradle Will Rock Training B.A., Communication; B.A., Asian Studies, St. John’s University; The Actors Workout Awards/Other Many Voices Fellow 2009-’10, ‘10-’11, Playwrights’ Center; 2002 Fil-Minnesotan Association Excellence in the Arts Award Upcoming Projects Jungle Theater: The Oldest Boy

 The Realistic Joneses – Area Premiere – Andy Boss Thrust Stage – September 23 to October 16

The Realistic Joneses: Featuring Jane Froiland

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of The Realistic Joneses Blog Series, let us introduce you to Jane Froiland:

froiland-jane-color

ROLE: Pony Jones, wife of John Jones, late 30s-40s

DIRECTOR JOEL SASS’ COMMENT:

Jane really stood out for me in a production of Clifford Odetts’ Rocket to the Moon a few years back; she played a young, idealistic woman who had little life experience but a great belief in her own capacity to achieve her dreams; it was a really effective (and deceptively difficult) character to play. So is the character of Pony Jones, who on the surface seems to be scattered, fragile and perhaps not the brightest bulb on the block—but is, in fact, deeply intuitive and empathetic.

QUESTION FOR JANE:

Pony claims, “I’m a totally unreliable person who’s filled with terror.” Do you believe that when you play her? Why or why not?

In my interpretation, when Pony says that, it is not because it is the absolute truth, but it’s what she FEARS is true. I think that Pony is more aware of her faults than she lets on. I don’t think she is so extreme as to be completely unreliable and terror-filled, but I do think that there is also an element of that in her which she fights against. I think we all have parts of ourselves that we are embarrassed or even ashamed about; and when you enter into a marriage, those things become nearly impossible to hide. Like, it’s kind of part of the deal that you are completely known to one other person, right? Or am I being idealistic? And yet, in this play, I feel like every character is struggling to really let themselves be known to their spouse. I feel like that line by Pony is her attempt to let herself be known.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Rock n Roll Representative Theatre Mixed Blood Theatre: An Octoroon; Children’s Theatre Company: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Gremlin Theatre: Rocket to the Moon; Ten Thousand Things: Doubt; Jungle Theater: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Walking Shadow Theatre Company: Compleat Female Stage Beauty TV/Film Documentary Now!, IFC Network;Theater People (web series) Training B.A., Theatre University of Minnesota Awards/Other 2014 Best Actress in a Drama, Lavender Magazine; 2011 Ivey Award for Outstanding Overall Production for Doubt; 2012 Ivey Award for Outstanding Overall Production for Compleat Female Stage Beauty

Jane Froiland (center) with Pogi Sumangil (left) and JC Cutler (right) in a rehearsal. Photograph by Connie Shaver

Jane Froiland (center) with Pogi Sumangil (left) and JC Cutler (right) at an early rehearsal.
Photograph by Connie Shaver

The Realistic Joneses – Area Premiere – Andy Boss Thrust Stage – September 23 to October 16

The Realistic Joneses: Featuring JC Cutler

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of The Realistic Joneses Blog Series, let us introduce you to JC Cutler:

cutler-jc-color-2016

ROLE: Bob Jones, husband of Jennifer Jones, 40s

DIRECTOR JOEL SASS’ COMMENT:

I’m so delighted to finally be doing another show with JC.  We had a blast together working on Shining City and Hitchcock Blonde at the Jungle, and I know he’ll bring a depth of humanity and surprising humor to playing the role of Bob Jones.

QUESTION FOR JC:

In what way is Bob a realistic Jones?

I think Bob is realistic in that he’s living in the moment, figuring how to get to the next moment from day to day. All the characters in the play are doing that.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Cyrano, Red, The Odyssey, Democracy, Copenhagen, Born Yesterday Representative Theatre Guthrie Theater: A Christmas Carol; Guthrie Theatre/Berkeley Repertory Theatre/Tricycle Theatre (London): Tiny Kushner; Jungle Theater: Shining City; La Jolla Playhouse: The Deception; Florida Stage: Pavilion; Mixed Blood Theatre: Pajama Game TV/ Film North Country, Ishtar, All My Children; various commercial and voice work Training B.A., Carleton College; The Juilliard Theatre School (four-year diploma) Awards Friars Foundation Award; Suria and Michel St. Denis award

JC Cutler with Angela Timberman in a rehearsal. Photograph by Connie Shaver

JC Cutler with Angela Timberman at the first read-though of the play. Photo by Connie Shaver

The Realistic Joneses – Area Premiere – Andy Boss Thrust Stage – September 23 to October 16

The Realistic Joneses: Featuring Angela Timberman

As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of The Realistic Joneses Blog Series, let us introduce you to Angela Timberman:

timberman-angela-2016-color

ROLE: Jennifer, Bob Jones’ wife, 40s

DIRECTOR JOEL SASS’ COMMENT:

Angie is well-known locally and especially for her memorable turns in musical theater and comedy.  But she has a rich, dramatic dimension as well, which I don’t think gets enough opportunity to show itself on our stages.  A role like Jennifer Jones is perfect for someone like Angie because, while the character is extremely funny, her humor is like a band-aid that covers some deep scars of sadness and anger.

QUESTION FOR ANGELA:

How you see Jennifer Jones now will likely evolve as you go through rehearsals, but do you have an idea of how you may initially approach your role?

I think Jennifer is a natural caregiver. That’s her “super power.” She’s got a good heart. It’s also her “feet of clay.” When duty calls, she’s there; and I think, like all of us, when we’re good at something (especially when a problem arises that requires our “super power”), we can go overboard. She has to learn to let a crisis ride itself out without her help. Or recognize when a person (particularly her husband) doesn’t need her support every moment. When she overdoes it, she loses herself. I want the audience to see her discover who she really is, what her relationship with her husband is, what her fascination with her male neighbor is, as she navigates the fallout from this disease that’s entered their lives. One person can’t fix everything or be everything to another person. We’re taught that about marriage, and it’s a fallacy.

As subtle as the ending seems in this play, I think these characters are very different people in the end. Maybe, even happier. Or at least more content and wiser.

CAST BACKGROUND:

Park Square Sons of the Prophet, The Sisters Rosensweig, Painting Churches, Good People Representative Theatre Guthrie Theater, Jungle Theater, Children’s Theatre Company, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, History Theatre, Illusion Theater, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

Angela Timberman with JC Cutler at a rehearsal. Photograph by Connie Shaver

Angela Timberman with JC Cutler at a rehearsal.
Photograph by Connie Shaver

The Realistic Joneses – Area Premiere – Andy Boss Thrust Stage – September 23 to October 16

 

ELI SCHLATTER: Scenic Designer for “The Liar”

Eli Schlatter

One of the most exciting and uplifting aspects of my job is the opportunity to meet some of the newest and brightest theatre talents in the Twin Cities. They are young, ultra-creative, incredibly hardworking and very committed to their work. One of these up-and-comers is Eli Schlatter, who is tasked with designing a fun but versatile set for Park Square Theatre’s upcoming area premiere of a playful comedy, The Liar, on the Proscenium Stage from September 9 to October 2.

Just three years out of college with a BFA in Theatre Design and Production from the University of Michigan, Schlatter is a freelance scenic designner and technician in the Twin Cities. His University of Michigan training closely mimicked real-life professional theatre work experiences, which allowed him to hit the ground running upon graduation. At one harrowing point in his career, he found himself juggling designs for three different shows with close opening dates.

With parents who’d met in a master’s theatre program, Schlatter described a lifetime “steeped in the theatre community.” As he put it, “I’ve been involved in theatre in different ways ‘forever.’ As a child, I saw more plays than movies.”

Schlatter acted on the Steppingstone Theatre stage in his tweens but got pulled into the technical side of theatre while at South High School. He had actually always been more intrigued with a set’s design–for instance, what would move or change on stage–and watched for, as he described, “how the world will tell the story.”

One of Schlatter’s first professional projects in the Twin Cities was as an intern for The Mystery of Irma Vep, assisting director and designer Joel Sass at the Jungle Theater (Sass will direct Park Square Theatre’s The Realistic Joneses on the Boss Stage from September 23 to October 16). To date, Schlatter has freelance designed for numerous local professional theatres, from Yellow Tree Theatre to Theater in the Round Players, and done technical work for such various venues as The Minnesota Fringe Festival and Circus Juventas. He also works on the run crew of The Children’s Theatre Company.

To be successful in his field, Schlatter must constantly put himself out there, actively and bravely searching for opportunities. He got the gig designing The Liar with what was essentially a designer’s version of auditioning: sending his resume and condensed portfolio to Artistic Director Richard Cook. Cook had obviously liked what he’d seen because Schlatter got a meeting and, two weeks later, the job.

In a future blog post, you can get an inside look at Schlatter’s scenic design process for The Liar. Don’t miss the chance for a glimpse into the making of theatre magic.

Scenic Designer Eli Schlatter (right) shows Director Doug Scholz-Carlson (left) his color set design model

Scenic Designer Eli Schlatter (right) shows Director Doug Scholz-Carlson (left) his set design model during rehearsal

(Notes: A scenic design portfolio website for Schlatter is at www.elischlatter.com; also look for the future blog “Flat Land: The World of The Liar”)

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